BYE BYE REDBIRD. The demise of the railfan favorites

photo: Larry Fendrick. 1960s view at the barrel-vaulted Grand Central Terminal station, showing “future” redbirds. Already, vandals were marring the units

The end of a 39-year run for R33 and R36 St. Louis Car Company units came on November 3, 2003 as the cars ran their final routes. They were affectionately dubbed “redbirds” for their maroon red paint jobs they sported for the last 15 years of their run, even though they wore jaunty cream and powder blue suits for the 1964-65 season, when they ferried passengers to and from the World’s Fair. They later featured battleship gray and blue, the uniforms of the rest of the IRT fleet; an unsuccessful attempt at graffiti fighting had them all white in the early 1980s; and even into the “redbird” era, an occasional forest green trainset would show up!



During 2003 the redbirds were gradually replaced by R62A cars that had run on the IRT Lexington Avenue line. Here, the R33car #9312 takes its ease at Corona Yards in Queens in September 2003. In the background can be seen the new Arthur Ashe Stadium, the new home of the US Tennis Open Tournament, on the right, and its predecessor, the much smaller Louis Armstrong Stadium on the left.

Oddly, Ashe Stadium is the anagram of the stadium across Roosevelt Avenue: Shea Stadium, home of the Amazing Mets.


photo: Dave Pirmann,

In 2000, #9312 was part of a trainset that made a special jaunt to Coney Island via the Culver line down McDonald Avenue. A complicated set of track switchings in necessary to get a train from the Flushing Line to the Culver, the first of which involves a special switch track just outside the Queensboro Plaza station in Long Island City, one of two locations in the system where it is possible to move an IRT train on to BMT tracks and vice versa. Here are the R33s at Ditmas Avenue.



Trainset headed by R36 Car #9616 at Corona Yards. Note the GMC “fishbowl” bus parked in the lot, and another set of R36s in the background. The Transit Authority/MTA used General Motors GMC’s from about 1960 through 1995; they were so named for their slightly bulging large front windows. The Long Island Rail Road Shea Stadium station can be seen in the background.

Mike Gallant’s GMC bus page


photo: Richard Panse

Here #9616 is in a Manhattan-bound unit at 45th Road/Courthouse Square in Long Island City in 2002. Flag decals were added to all cars immediately after 9/11/01.



R36 cars #9634 and #9635 at Corona with Shea Stadium the backdrop.


photo: Dave Pirmann

#9634 heads up a Manhattan-bound local at 69th Street (Fisk Avenue) in Woodside. 69th Street’s old name, Fisk Avenue, was retired in the 1920s…everywhere but on MTA signage.

On the Flushing Line, a single center track is used for express service; while bullets on the roll sign ID are used to denote local service and diamonds express, they can’t be relied on, since express service is one-way depending on the time of day, and the same units go back and forth. Track placement at the two terminals, Grand Central and Main Street, is the real indicator of whether a train will be local or express.



R-36 cars #9742 and #9743


photo: Salaam Allah

#9742 on the express track in 2002. The Citicorp Tower, largest building in Long Island, challenges the fog in the background. In the late 1990s, the four stations along Queens Blvd. in Sunnyside were renovated with new artwork and platform lighting.


photo: Gary Chatterton

R-36 unit headed by #9577 pulls into 52nd Street/Lincoln Avenue in Woodside in July 2000.


photo: Rich Galiano

Next stop, Atlantis. Frogman prepares to board car #9577 in the Atlantic Ocean, where it has been reassigned to provide shelter for passing octopi.

Reefing” the redbirds

The MTA dressed two units subway cars, one of R36 cars on the Flushing Line and another R142 unit on the Lexington Avenue line, to celebrate the Subway Series of 2000 where the Amazing Mets lost to the Yanks, 4 to 1. Both photos here were taken at Main Street. Photo right from Oren’s Transit Page.

The Subway Series began the twilight of the redbirds, however; already, plans were afoot to scrap most of the cars in Davy Jones’ Locker (see above) Stainless steel R62 units on the Flushing Line would be spotted in Corona Yards, and then, slowly at first, but getting more numerous as the months rolled on. By November 2003 the final R36 unit would roll on the Flushing Line.



Rust was beginning to overtake the cars’ exteriors, though no car ever left the yard in less than perfectly safe condition.



Subway buff and MTA conductor Mark Wolodarsky holds an R36 scale model on November 3, 2003.

The final day arrived as a unit of R36 cars took a final tour from GCT to Main Street at 11AM, Monday, 11/3/03. Photos: Mario Tama.

Photo opportunities at Shea Stadium. Photos: Mario Tama.

A final look at the R36 interior in revenue service. Hey, don’t these characters know they may be committing unlawful acts if they continue to pursue this behavior? Photos: Mario Tama

Sold me down the river! On their way to the reefs. Photos: Robbie Rosenfeld.

Hundreds more redbird photos at

Your webmaster shot images for this page in September 2003 and compiled photography in early 2004. The page was written 9/5/04.

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